CITY HALL – City Council implemented what one member called “a temporary restraining order” on large residential development in two neighborhoods last week.
As the Planning Commission grapples with a controversial project in the Pico Neighborhood that, if approved, could replace 15 rent controlled units with 21 new apartments, council opted to change a provisional planning document, removing incentives that might lead to more tenant-displacing projects.
City Hall is between planning documents: A new Zoning Ordinance is being reviewed by the planning commissioners (they’ve held 16 meetings on the ordinance thus far) and they will pass it along to council for approval when they’re done.
In the meantime, the Interim Zoning Ordinance dictates many of the land-uses throughout the city. Council amended this ordinance making the replacement of existing apartments less attractive, in theory, for developers.
The amended zone encompasses parts of the Pico and Mid-City neighborhoods, extending about a half mile in all directions from the incoming Expo Light Rail line.
Some councilmembers, residents, and city officials noted that the prospect of the train has already boosted property values in the area and could encourage landowners to develop large condominiums, ousting current tenants.
The amendments themselves are technical but in essence they discourage dense projects, which are typically more profitable, they restricts the consolidation of parcels, and they tighten the limits on projects that require review from the Planning Commission. The latter amendment will allow for more public discussion of projects – projects that previously would not have required as stringent of a review process.
Many residents, speaking during the public portion of the meeting, urged council to go forward with the suggested amendments.
Some noted that it could have ancillary negative consequences.
Councilmember Gleam Davis supported the short-term change but expressed a desire to discuss the issue more thoroughly before approving the new Zoning Ordinance.
“If we are going to have some development, we want it do be good development,” she said. “We want it do be well-designed development and I’m concerned that some of these may actually lead to poor development.”
Councilmember Terry O’Day concurred, noting that restricting density could lead to a net-loss of units if a developer does decide to go forward with a project under the new conditions. He asked that council be given more time to consider the amendments.
“You get something that is fewer units, that are larger and more expensive, leading to an exacerbation of this gentrification problem,” he said. “In my view it kind of goes in the wrong direction.”
Councilmember Kevin McKeown, who strongly supported the amendments and successfully lobbied for them to impact a larger zone than recommended by city officials, conceded that this issue would need to be discussed further when the new Zoning Ordinance comes before council.
“I think our intent here is not to affect what kind of upscale condo gets built but to make sure, at least in the short term, that the existing affordable housing on these sites is less likely to be demolished,” he said. “The argument about whether it’s a larger or smaller condo unit is an interesting wrinkle in gentrification but it’s going to mean little to the people who were in the apartments that were torn down because they’re not going to be buying those condos.”
The amendments passed 5 to 0, with Councilmember Ted Winterer absent from the meeting and Councilmember Bob Holbrook, an owner of property within the zone, recusing himself.

dave@smdp.com

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